The 13th Rope: An Autobiography

Whenever John Christensen speaks about his life the reaction of the listener is almost always, “You should write a book!”  Finally, John can say, “I’ve done just that.”

It took endless hours, dogged determination, and skillful orchestration of a team of dedicated supporters before The 13th Rope materialized. The very fact of the book’s existence is a testament to the fortitude, optimism, and courage that has sustained and characterized this man throughout his life.

John Christensen was born into a hard-working Saskatchewan farm family in 1941. Despite the appearance of ordinary beginnings, he never was and never will be an ordinary person, nor does he descend from ordinary lineage. His ancestors include Jean-Baptiste and Marie-Anne Lagimodière, who played significant roles in settling the Canadian west, and Louis Riel, Métis leader of the 1885 North West Rebellion.

As a prairie farm boy of Métis lineage, John’s life centred on hunting, fishing, trapping, and roaming the countryside in which he lived. By the age of fourteen, he had grown into a tall, strong young man eager and willing to help on the farm and hunt wild game for his mother’s kitchen. Then, without warning, a crippling and brutal illness changed his life forever. After months of hospitalization and therapy, John returned to the farm with permanent paralysis of his left leg. After desperately trying and failing to overcome the loss, he accepted the reality that he would never take another normal step. From that point on, John never looked back.

In time John established a successful career, married and started a family, and acquired a pilot’s license and an airplane. Once again, misfortune struck. A fiery plane crash nearly took his life and resulted in further debilitation. As before, through sheer determination and strength of purpose, John managed to put his life back on track.

There would be further challenges to his life, marriage, and career, but a disastrous event in 1988 tested his endurance to the limit. For an error in judgment precipitated by complicated and tragic circumstances, John served five years in prison.

After his release, during a trip to Vietnam, John noticed with dismay the suffering of the disabled in that country. Those with handicaps were the poorest of the poor, without so much as a wheelchair, walker, or crutch to make their lives easier. Out of genuine concern and determination to make a difference, he returned to Canada and established the Global Disability Foundation. Since then, the foundation has shipped thousands of wheelchairs and mobility devices to third-world countries where they are distributed free to those in greatest need.

Today, at the age of  seventy, John lives a quiet, modest life in Calgary, Alberta.

The title of this book, The 13th Rope, is a direct reference to Johnʹs rescue from his burning plane. An excerpt from Chapter 7 reads:

Fire had ignited parts of my clothing and was burning into the right side of my body. I fought against sinking into unconsciousness, but my strength was ebbing away and there was nothing I could do to stop it. It would soon be over. …

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